News outlets and social media are exploding with stories and comments on Gabby Petito and her fiancé. This beautiful young woman was traveling the country with her fiancé, went missing, and has recently been found dead. As community members, our hearts simply break for the young woman, her family and her friends. And yet, we also seem to find grounds for criticism.
Why didn’t she do this? Why didn’t her family do that? Why didn’t she know better than to? Couldn’t her mother do something?
A quick search on social media platforms will offer thousands of additional inquiries. Put simply, this is called victim blaming. The public looks at the outcome of a situation and automatically begins to see things they believe she could or should have done. Warning signs she should have seen. Behaviors she should have recognized.
But rarely does society look at the perpetrator through that same lens. Granted, most people look at the alleged suspect in this case as the bad guy.
Why aren’t we also asking what warning signs did HIS parents see? Why did he think he could treat his fiancé like that? What did his friends know about what was going on?
Whatever took place on those lonely roads occurred because of the negative and abusive elements he created in their relationship.
The truth is, these things do not happen in complete isolation. As we know, even total strangers made a police report based on an incident in a national park. But what about before? Surely, the controlling and abusive nature of the relationship didn’t simply begin once this young couple started their road trip. In fact, statistics tell us that in abusive relationships the violent and controlling behaviors often start very early.
So look at the relationships around you, including the teen relationships.
Are there things that cause you to pause? The sound of the voice? A fierce look across the room? The ease with which someone “gives in?” A subtle change in self-esteem, outlook, attitude or personality? Are tears more frequent? Are they more sullen or quiet?
These are changes and behaviors we should be discussing with both partners. We should talk to the abuser as much as we talk to the victim/survivor. Perhaps if we all start actively discussing these relationships in the early stages, there will be fewer news stories about beautiful young women named Gabby. In the meantime, remember her, her family and her friends during these difficult days.